Stratford resident here. Raja is excellent Indian food. We eat there fairly often and are never, ever disappointed. Various friends from out of town (who haven't been to the UK) have called it the best Indian they've ever had. Highly recommended.
Stratford is a funny place. There are numerous sandwich places (York Street Kitchen, Sirkel Foods, etc.) that are delightful, and there are several high-priced places for tourists, but on the whole the place is a culinary desert. We find ourselves going to Kitchener and London for Asian food, which is mostly non-existent in Stratford (save for the delectable Raja). It's frustrating when you want a quick bowl of pho or some Korean or Chinese or what have you, but your only options are the over-priced and under-flavoured pseudo Thai noodles at any number of cutesy places or the standard sickly sweet Canadian-Chinese offerings. Sure, there are "Italian" places galore here, but those places are generally for tourists with 70-year-old palates.
The "must-dine" places on my list would be Raja, York Street Kitchen and Sirkel Foods. The rest are...meh.
40 Wellington St, Stratford, ON N5A, CA
York Street Kitchen
41 York St, Stratford, ON N5A1A1, CA
Guess whether you consider Stratford to be "a culinary desert" depends on what kind of food you like to eat :-) I find it funny that you describe Stratford as a culinary desert when it's surrounded by some of the best farmland in the Ontario. Soiled Reputation produce and Monforte Dairy cheeses are some of the best quality foods produced in Ontario. Chef Neil Baxter's breads are the highest quality breads I've tasted in Ontario.
For upscale, contemporary/continental food made with local ingredients, many Londoners I know prefer the upscale restaurants in Stratford (such as Bijou, Keystone Alley Cafe, The Church, the Old Prune & Rundles, as well as Woolfy's and the Westover in St. Mary's) to the upscale restaurants serving the same types of food in London, and they'll sometimes drive to Stratford to dine at the various restaurants for special occasions. Although the prices are higher, and the portions are smaller than the restaurants in London, I've found the upscale contemporary/continental restaurants in Stratford to be more consistent than most of the upscale contemporary/continental restaurants in London.
I haven't dined at Raja in Stratford, but I found the food at Raja in London (same ownership) to be mediocre at best.
I don't find it surprising that the Asian and Italian restaurants are not Stratford's forte. Stratford does not have a significant Asian or Italian population that would demand authentic and/or high quality cuisine. Even in Toronto where we have a massive Italian population, it's difficult to find great Italian restaurants.
151 Albert St, Stratford, ON N5A3K5, CA
Not a lot of newer/up-to-date posts on Bijou - shame, because I went there recently based on older posts that were very positive (should have checked dates!!). I had smoked trout appetizer and scallops entree. Trout was beautiful quality but there was far too much vinegar in the dressing (tart!). Scallops were cooked very nicely, so texture was great, but the salt was so extreme my tongue felt swollen! Husband had confit of duck which was cooked to perfection, but in a salty sauce! Dessert list was too uninventive for us to stay for a third course, so we left. If you're going to pay $47 (prix fix with 2 dishes), go elsewhere and avoid salt and vinegar!
105 Erie St, Stratford, ON N5A2M5, CA
re: Food Tourist
Not sure if the chef would be different since you were last there. Anthony Gosselin is the current Executive Chef, and Daniel Gosselin is the Sous Chef. http://www.westoverinn.com/dining.html
I usually eat lunch at the Westover once a month. The lunch menu is fairly limited, and the options are conservative, which is not surprising since it's located in St. Mary's, and its main customers outside the tourist season are the local business people. The menu changes at least 4 times a year. During the spring, I was usually ordering the Hutton House burger made of local beef, or their panko crusted chicken sandwich, which is no longer on the lunch menu.
I wouldn't consider the Westover to be a place that is worth driving out of your way, especially if you're used to better restaurants in Toronto, but the atmosphere is nice, and they use high quality, mostly local ingredients. The quality of the food at the Westover is still generally better and more consistent than your average continental restaurant in London where food is often hit or miss, and sometimes downright awful.
The dessert menu at the Westover changes frequently, and their housemade ice creams are quite good. Haven't had dinner at the Westover in a long time.
While I haven't been wowed by much of the food at the Westover, I've always found the food to to be decent, although the options are on the conservative side for my palate.
I haven't tried Pan. I wish the owners luck, because that corner seems to turn into a new restaurant at the beginning of each new Stratford Festival season. I looked at their sample menu, and their tapas don't look like tapas. They look like soups and salads! Someone should tell the owner that frites with aioli are not tapas. Patatas bravas are tapas! ;-)
We are going to be in Stratford with our two daughters (aged 5 and 8) and looking for a few spots for dinner. Sounds like Pazzo-downstairs and York Street Kitchen are the best bets? The challenge is to find good food (that we will all enjoy) in a casual atmosphere where we're not worried about the girls ruining anyone's expensive meal! Any other suggestions would be great.
Any brunch suggestions?
My husband and I are on our way back from a quick trip to Stratford, where guided by Chowhound, we had super meals at Pazzo (downstairs, dinner), Down the Street (lunch, outdoors), and Bijou (dinner). We had pizza at Pazzo (fans of NY pizza, we adored it). At Down the Street we had excellent spring rolls and asian noodle salad. At Bijou we both had utterly fantastic, interesting food (I had cauliflower soup and the quail; he had charcuterie and the pork tenderloin) and wine and we felt the tab was quite reasonable.
BTW, if you're going to the 2008 Festival, be sure to see Cabaret--fantastic production. We stayed at XIS, which is a splendid little boutique hotel.
Obviously we had a great time--thanks for the guidance!
Here is my $0.02 worth as a Stratford resident for the last year.
Balzac's- great coffee, nice room. Just go.
York Street Kitchen - nice takeout sandwiches, albeit a tad pricy. I like that they use local ingredients (eg summer sausage). Breakfast is OK but I can't recommend dinner. I love the comfort food concept, but the kitchen just doesn't deliver. Why should I go out for dinner when I can cook much better than this at home? The BBQ (they use that term loosely) is tasteless, the enchiladas boring, fried chicken is passable but they only give you one small piece. The sides are worse- the beans are an overly sweet, unidentifiable mess, the "kitchen sink" salad is some limp lettuce with a smattering of other veg. The mash is OK. YSK seems to suffer from a lack of supervision... the pierced and tattooed server may be friendly and helpful;then again she may not. Bottom line: get a sandwich to go and enjoy by the river.
The Old Parlour - I've always enjoyed my dinners and lunches here. Small but ok patio outside, lovely pub inside. Steak is good as are several of the asian-influenced dishes. Lunch sandwiches are Ok, though I found the fries a bit bland. Nice place to meet a friend for a pint.
Sunroom - a favourite of the locals. The sun is the only nice thing about the room though. Decor is not this place's strong suit. The food is well executed- again they do steaks and asiany dished pretty well. Service is excellent and friendly.
Down the Street - I've only been there once and I really wanted to like this place but the food didn't deliver. Across the board it just lacked flavour. Nice room and friendly staff though. Good place to hangout after a show.
Raja - pretty decent Indian food for Stratford. I've had better in Toronto and in the UK, but I've also had a lot worse in both of those places. If you go for lunch you will probably see the chef and staff from the Church restaurant eagerly filling their faces.
Pearl - again pretty decent Asian food for Stratford. My reference points for sushi are Hiro and Kajji in Toronto and Nobu in NYC. Needless to say Pearl doesn't compare to them... but it is pretty damn good.
Foster's - Another nice room that is a good place to hang out for a drink. Steak is their thing here and they do it not bad. One thing I've never seen any place else: when your server brings your steak, she commands you to cut it open immediately and signoff that it is cooked to your liking. An odd ritual.
Fellini's - I can't bring myself to go as I've heard too many bad things from the locals.
The Belfry - I've never beem downstairs to the Church, but there upstairs bar serves excellent food in a nice atmosphere and with stellar service. Though not cheap, I understand it is more reasonably priced then the main resto. Easily on a par with most high end restaurants in Toronto.
Pass da Pasta - I haven't quite figured this place out. Not much selection, heinously overpriced, quirky service... but some people seem to like it. In my opinion, if you need provisions you are much better off to go to Zehrs.
Tango - used to be a cafe but they seem to have retooled it into more of a restaurant. Can't think of a reason to go there.
Pazzo - Downstairs offers great pizza in a wonderful atmosphere. Love the "bruschetta" which isn't really bruschetta. Don't waste your money by going upstairs.
Boomers - Good burgers, fries and poutine if you are feeling in the mood for that sort of thing.
Schnitzel House - I love the schnitzes and made out pretty well here. Worth a visit if you are looking for a change. It won't change your life or anything, but it's worth the money.
Features - only open for breakfast and lunch. On weekend mornings you will see the lineup extending down Waterloo Street. Breakfasts are good and it is nice to see a few more innovative items on the menu rather than just the regular greasy spoon fare.
That's it for now. Will add some more soon.
Looking for a place for a large group in October (about 50 for dinner). We will definitely be making reservations, food will be on one tab and the drinks will most likely be on separate. Looking at Pazzo and Schnitzel. Wondering if they would work to make a menu that all would enjoy. Open to other suggestions.
Will be there at 5:15pm and out by 6:45pm.
What about the tapas place, Globe?
Nice atmosphere would be a bonus. Want a little better than diner, but not elite, fine dining. Many foodies in the group.
If you could only pick one place to have a nice father-daughter Saturday dinner with a world-class food lover, would you dine at Bijou, Church, Old Prune or other in Stratford after a matinee at the festival? Prefer innovative with great service but would also consider more casual but still top-notch food quality, maybe like Belfry? Thanks.
re: Food Tourist
re: Food Tourist
I'd dine at Bijou. The food is fresh tasting and innovative, and you get the feeling the menu changes daily. The dishes are contemporary, and the portions are large enough that I felt satisfied but not overly full with 2 courses. It's possible to order a 2 course or 3 course prix fixe off their menu that's posted on a blackboard.
The last time I was at the Church, the servings were miniscule, and the kitchen forgot to add crab to my dish that featured crab. The Church's menu seemed outdated and they seemed to be relying on big ticket ingredients like foie gras, frogs legs, crab, etc., but the preparation seemed fairly pedestrian. My meal at the Old Prune was quite good, but again, the portions were very small. I found the food at Bijou a little less fussy than the food at the Old Prune. The Old Prune would be my second choice, if Bijou is full. The atmosphere at the Old Prune is lovely.
The Old Prune and Bijou tend to use a lot of local ingredients, whereas it seemed like the Church was relying on a lot more imports. I haven't been to the Church in the last 18 months, so it's possible they would be using more local products this year.
Bijou is my current favourite in Stratford. http://www.bijourestaurant.com/menus....
Rundles is another option for upscale food in Stratford, but I haven't eaten there recently.
re: Food Tourist
Just went to the Old Prune and the techniques for the desserts used were very diverse and creative. The complex methods used showed themselves well in their rhubarb three ways (delightful strusel, vodka shooter and gelee) and the funnel cakes with a middle eastern flair (the cakelets were in a saffron sauce and accented with two ice creams pistachio and mango). their chocolate dish was a mexican spiced chocoalte sauce wth a coconut cake. the last was a masterful layer upon layer apple dish: with a bed a apple sauce (a lovely golden and slightly sticky concotion) centred with a sable which soaked up the sauce. a peeled baked apple wedge was on top, spooned on that was a fluffy goat cheese mousse and crowning the dessert was a tuile.
the tastes were sensational.. and while i hate to say it, the drawback were the immensely small portions and the $15 charge per dessert. but i did realise these two aspects going into the restaurant. i chose to go because i knew it was an experience i couldn't miss.
This morning I had breakfast at Let Them Eat Cake (http://www.letthemeatcake.ca/) on Wellington Street. They had wonderful service and very good, standard, home cooked breakfasts. It just... tasted good!! I had pancakes and sausage links. It was just perfect, non-pretentious, Sunday morning breakfast. I will definitely be eating there again.
For breakfast or lunch, I highly recommend York Street Kitchen (http://www.yorkstreetkitchen.com/) Great ingredients put to expert use in traditional and internationally inspired dishes. Fantastic sandwiches and soups. And try the brownies--- divine! Funky home cooking - hip atmosphere.
Also a great lunch at Sirkel Foods on Wellington. Probably 'lighter' choices than YSK, but just as delicious. I had a chicken club wrap, and my boyfriend had the meatloaf sandwich. Both were so good. Oh yeah, also should mention both YSK and Sirkel are licensed and have good selections in that area as well.
For dinner, so far I've only been to Bentley's, which has traditional pub fare and some more elaborate entrees. I really enjoyed my pesto chicken dish - and, again, a fine wine and beer list. It is probably one of the larger (square footage) restaurants I've been in so far, so it felt roomy, though I'm sure it will feel different when packed with patrons during the summer.
If you are jonesing for sushi - as my boyfriend often do, being used to having it weekly in LA, Mr. Kim's is really great! He works out of the General Store on Ontario Street; granted, it looks like a rinky dink take-out operation, but the sushi was high quality and quite satisfactory.
I will be posting more ... as I experience it over the next several months!
I live in the Stratford area, so here are some local favourites, and a couple comments.
First, there is no restaurant called "Green Door". The staff and artists who work at the theatre can eat in the "Greenroom," but that is not open to the public.
There is a huge difference between Pazzo (not "Pozzo"), a chef-centred restaurant, and Fellini's, which is a "family dining" experience with a cookie-cutter, Olive-Garden-style menu. Chowhounds, take note.
Pazzo has a fine dining restaurant upstairs, including a three-course lunch for the price of the year (this year, $20.06); downstairs are the best pizzas in the city, thin-crust with your choice of whole wheat or regular. I ate there last year with a 13-year-old New Yorker who's eaten in every great pizza place in New York, and he declared Pazzo pizza his favourite of all.
Four Stratford restaurants are included in Where to Eat In Canada: Bijou, Church, Old Prune and Rundles. The latter three are quite pricey but all special in their own way: Old Prune and Rundles are the co-founding restaurants of the Stratford Chefs School and Rundles is regularly included as one of the top restaurants in the province in an annual review by Toronto Life Magazine. Church also has Belfry, upstairs, with a "tasting dishes" style new this year (2006). Bijou is a gem and I've had nothing but good experiences there although a couple American friends have not been as pleased with the place -- issues with service and small portions.
For less-pricey but lovely fare:
Globe -- international "tapas" -- all small dishes to share. Great tastes. I never in my life thought I'd like sweetbreads until eating them here. Amazing homemade ice cream and the lobster bisque "shot glass" likely will throw your blood cholesterol to ruin, but it's worth it.
"38" -- two young Stratford Chef School grads in the kitchen. Limited choices, but wonderful tastes. Duck and steak are both good choices for mains,
Raja -- new Indian spot. Dishes are wonderful although service was a bit slow the night we were there.
Sunroon -- a local favourite. Don't be put off by the dated decor -- the kitchen is solid, with generous portions and the bonus of a low mark-up on wine. Lobster ravioli is fantastic.
Down the Street -- a favourite spot with the artists of the Stratford Festival. Best for lunch or light dinner, or after theatre.
York Street Kitchen: humongous and wonderful sandwiches and other takeout (or eat-in) treats for lunch. Dinner is down-home cooking with a twist, and great prices for Stratford. Very funky.
International Grounds -- a new spot in Stratford at the corner of Water and Waterloo Streets. No liquor licence, and service is semi-cafeteria style (you order at the counter and then the meal is brought to you at your table). It's a coffee shop with a strong kitchen behind it -- very reasonable prices for well-prepared food.
Some other recommendations:
for coffee: Balzac's; International Grounds; Sputnik.
for a patio drink: Olde English Parlour; good for lunch too.
for a quick lunch or picnic takeout (people in Stratford often get food "to go" and eat in the parks strung along the Avon River): Tango; York Street Kitchen; Pass da Pasta; Bella Della.
Hope this gets you started. I'll posted anon (as they say in this Shakespeare-saturated town) about other choices and also some great places nearby.
just ate at Globe about a week and a half ago - very nice. I wasn't expecting much - our table was over the moon! Everything we ate was delicious. Not too expensive either. surprisingly. although we thought they served tapas too fast for our liking (but I guess they cater the theatre crowd)
I agree with most of nasturtium's comments, they seems pretty much right on.
I had the misfortune of dining at Fellini's on Saturday evening. We don't know what made us go there. It always looks packed. What a mistake! The deep dish lasagna was terrible, and my penne pesto dish was undercooked and blah.I had the oil taste in my my mouth for hours after. I understand that Tango and Fellini's are the same owner. Tango used to be a comfortable spot to drop in for a coffee, not certain now.
Whenever we have dined at Bijou the portions have been small, and we leave there feeling that something is missing......food! We have dined at 38 twice and not impressed enough to return, but gave it 2 chances.
Dined at The Church, The Old Prune (we attend a couple of Chef school dinners every winter) Keystone Alley, etc. Bentley's have wonderful soups, and basically the food is good and honest. We plan on dining at Rundles in the New Year.
An update from Stratford, now at the beginning of 2008:
Closed from 2006 (my earlier post): 38, Globe, International Grounds.
Opened in their place: Asie (an established Asian-influenced-menu restaurant from nearby New Hamburg moved into the "38" space); and Pearl Sushi (moved into the Globe space). Also, "Carter's on Downie" is closing and Sapori, which serves hearty, mama-Italian-style food, is moving into that spot (it's a bigger restaurant space). Along that Downie Street area, you now have Japanese (with some Korean dishes, such as bul-go-gee) at Pearl Sushi, "mama Italian" at Sapori, Indian (at Raja, which has settled in nicely) and German/Austrian at Schnitzel House. Pearl Sushi is run by a family that has another restaurant in Toronto and the sushi/sashimi is excellent, for a "nowhere near the ocean" restaurant.
Another great new spot: Sirkel Foods on Wellington Street. Family friendly but still quite chic/funky with low prices ($5 Eggs Florentine, anyone?). Owners are chef school grads: Open for breakfasts and lunches only in the winter, and for dinner until 8 p.m. during theatre season. Very good food.
Our favourites for a great meal out (without a second mortgage), beyond the newer restaurants already mentioned: Pazzo, Foster's, Down the Street, Sun Room, York Street Kitchen. There's a fun new coffee spot opened since 2006 -- Sputnik on Ontario Street; Balzac's is stlil going strong, as well. For lunches/quick meals, Boomer's on Erie Street is worth checking out: sweet potato fries and great homecooking burgers and fish.
Hope you enjoy your travels to Stratford in 2008. If you do decide to dine at one of the "big four" (Church, Old Prune, Rundles, Bijou), I'd recommend seeing a show in the afternoon and then booking the 7:45 or 8 p.m. sitting, once the evening theatre crowd has cleared out. You can then enjoy the dining experience fully and in a leisurely way.
Thank you so much for this Nasturtium... I'll be headed to Stratford soon for my interview with Stratford Culinary School and I am excited to try one of these spots for lunch (and dinner if I have time :) )
Also, of these choices, which would you recommend for the brunch inclined (do any of these places offer weekday brunch fare)?
Bijou, Pazzo (downstairs for more casual, less expensive but still scrumptious food - upstairs for upscale, pricier meals), Keystone Alley, The Sunroom and Carter's On Downie are all wonderful, but I must agree that The Church Restaurant/Belfry take the cake. You can't beat the atmosphere/surroundings - it's really an old church. A smaller place is Foster's Lounge - the brunch is incredible. For a VERY intimate place for a quick bite, check out Down The Street (Ontario St.).
I'll second Pozzo. And try the Sunroom. It's tucked away, but I was there a couple of years ago and it was the best meal I've ever had in Stratford. A friend who works at the festival also said to try the Green Door. There's no sign, just a green door, but apparently it's the best game in town.
I have eaten twice in Stratford and both times were at The Church Restaurant. It was divine. As you can deduce from the name, it was church that has been renovated into a fine dining restaurant. Both times I was there, we dined in the Belfry which is a smaller, cosier, more casual restaurant upstairs from the main dining area. It serves the same food as the main area.
I highly recommend the lobster bisque if it is available during your visit.
I have included a link to their web site.
Try the Belfry which is upstairs at the Church. It's being renovated right now and should reopen mid May. Cool atmosphere and great food. Downstairs at the Church itself is a great experience with a very creative menu. Go to the website to get an idea of the choices. Have been there many times and never went away disappointed
I have only eaten at one place in Stratford and that was The Church Restaurant. It was divine!! As you can deduce from the name, it is a church that has been turned in to a restaurant. I have dined there twice and both times it was up in The Belfry. The Belfry is a small, more casual bar area. They offer the same food as the lower part, just a bit less stuffy.
I highly recommend the lobster bisque.
I have included a link to their web page.